Before you even speak to her, Amar Khan comes across as someone no one should mess with. Just the fact that the actor managed to write and get a whole feature film off the ground is a big deal. She starred as the lead, Alia Butt, too, in 2022’s Dum Mastam.
It isn’t exactly shocking that Amar took this route. The actor studied filmmaking at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, and then at New York Film Academy. Her mother Fareeha Jabeen is a veteran television actor, who began her career in 1989 with PTV’s Neelay Haath. But despite being presented with every opportunity, the gift of legacy, and innate talent, it really is up to the individual to create something of substance. Amar Khan, it appears, has the grit to make things happen.
Dum Mastam opened on Eid 2022 with Ghabrana Nahi Hai and Parde Mein Rehne Do, as well as Chakkar. Film was returning to cinemas after a long absence. What simultaneous Eid releases result in usually though is kind of an unequal distribution of attention. Despite Imran Ashraf being adorable in his role as Bao and Amar as the sharp but fun Alia, Dum Mastam lost favor to its peers. The reviews that followed were mixed too. While we might never know how Amar felt immediately in the wake of these, we did see her a mere few months later, performing at the 21st Lux Style Awards in Lahore, just being the coolest and most focused performer you’ve ever seen.
If her onscreen and stage personas have led you to believe that Amar Khan is full of life and vivacious, speaking to her confirms the hypothesis. She is open and fun to talk to, and very candid about where she comes from. She says, very honestly, that she has never had to struggle a day in her life, because she was given the best of education and opportunities. Her mother Fareeha Jabeen on the other hand, has spent decades in the industry without wider or brighter success. One doesn’t define the other, but one may suspect that Amar’s intense ambition comes from never wanting to be pigeonholed or sidelined like Fareeha Jabeen.
But you don’t really need armchair psychology to get Amar to confirm or deny the suspicion; she will tell you herself. “I am very vocal about my journey, as well as the kind of work I want to do,” she says. “Sometimes I do get offered unorthodox roles, other times, the scripts I am sent are so bad I want to cry. I ask myself, is this what I worked so hard to do? But then, as an actor, the job is to play each role with the same confidence and grace as the other.”
Always interested in the arts, Amar has been surrounded all her life by film, music, and literature. “At BNU, Asghar Nadeem Syed, a senior television writer, had us read some very complex Urdu writing,” she says, naming some of Urdu literature’s greats as the storytellers she has learnt from. “Writing and acting are just so connected,” says Amar, and it seems her instincts as a writer inform her acting, and vice versa.
As part of a younger generation of actors, who came into focus while social media paparazzi became a thing, Amar deals with the constant scrutiny with surprisingly thick skin and good humor.
Obsession with celebrity has always been a feature of the public, and anyone in that public’s eye knows what they had signed up for. However, it would be unfair to expect all celebrities to be cool with public opinion, reaction, and commentary constantly.
“I don’t really deal with trolls,” says Amar. “One gets used to it. When you do a lot of formulaic roles that make you famous, or your audience likes, but then behave unlike those roles in your own life, people are thrown off. There’s nothing much to say in such situations except: woh meri acting thi, aur yeh mera real style hai.”
She recalls the backlash a simple Instagram photo had earned her recently. “I was in London for an awards show, and wasn’t aware that a particular coffee chain was on the list of businesses to avoid during this war on Palestine,” she says. “I was there getting a coffee and simply put up a photo, the next thing I know, my comments are flooded with people berating me for going to the coffee place, putting a picture there, [and then it escalates from there].
“I actually apologized immediately,” says Amar. “But you have to give me a chance to learn and do better. Don’t attack me to the point that I start tuning you out!”
Knowing the kind of scrutiny and censure that follows any public figure, Amar is very careful with what she says and does, and how it could be received. “I am super careful about my words, something you say in jest or casually could be taken out of context.
“If the words are typed - messages on Whatsapp, for example - and are shared with an intent to cause trouble, they could cause chaos you didn’t mean at all. Because everything has a digital record now, you have to be precious with your words. I know there are people who would share text messages or voice notes just for a bit of clout or simply to make you look bad. So if I can save myself that grief just by being cautious, I’m okay to do that.”
When it comes to naming her favorite things though, Amar Khan is a lot less specific. This isn’t because she is being cautious, her interests are simply too vast to narrow down into a few categories or names.
“I can’t really say what my favorite movie genre is!” she protests, “it’s all of them! Sometimes it’s none of them. There are times it’s just one particular genre,” Amar laughs. There isn’t really a way to capture and pin down love for an idea, person, or entity, is there? We can’t blame her. She does have her heart set on certain things though. She likes working with the best storytellers, because that is an aspect of her craft she enjoys. She has firm opinions on what she likes, and what she will and won’t do.
Most of all, Amar Khan commits wholeheartedly to what she believes in. “Like any other job, acting has its boring moments. The moments I know I’m in the right place are when I am fully immersed in a character that’s meaty, well-rounded, and leaves you with something to think about. That’s when I stop and take stock, and count my blessings.”
“I am very vocal about my journey, as well as the kind of work I want to do,” Amar says. “Sometimes I do get offered unorthodox roles, other times, the scripts I am sent are so bad I want to cry. I ask myself, is this what I worked so hard for? But then, as an actor, the job is to play each role with the same confidence and grace as the other.”